The best ways to maximize Air Canada’s new Aeroplan program

Aug 13, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect Aeroplan’s upcoming changes.

Frequent flyer programs have grown from small in-house operations aimed at rewarding loyal customers into corporate behemoths, driving billions of dollars in annual revenue for airlines. While we generally think of frequent flyer programs as being run by the airlines they are associated with, there’s one notable exception: Air Canada’s loyalty program, Aeroplan, has been independently run for the last several years.

That’s all set to change in November when Air Canada takes the reins again and launches the completely revamped Aeroplan. Naturally, many award travelers were worried about how these changes will affect a valuable and popular loyalty program. However, we now know what exactly is changing and the pros of the new program seem to outweigh the cons. Most notably, the award chart isn’t going away any time soon.

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An Air Canada Airbus A330-300. (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)
An Airbus A330 taking off. (Photo courtesy of Air Canada)

Upcoming changes to Aeroplan

Although Air Canada is maintaining the Aeroplan brand, there will be a lot of changes when the new loyalty program launches.

Come Nov. 8, Aeroplan will begin to roll out a revamped award chart, new redemption options and an innovative family points pooling program, among other features. Redemption rates are going up in some cases, but that’s being offset in many cases with the elimination of hefty carrier-imposed surcharges. That said, there will be a $39 CAD ($29 USD) per-person partner booking fee – a relatively small tradeoff.

Perhaps the most valuable change is the generous new open-jaw and stopover policy. You’ll be able to add stopovers for 5,000 points each — two for each round-trip itinerary, and one for each one-way trip — on all awards except within North America. This will essentially allow you to build multiple trips into one award. This change is especially welcome considering that Aeroplan removed the ability to book Round-The-World (RTW) awards and multi-city tickets in Sept. 2019.

Related: TPG details Air Canada’s sweeping Aeroplan changes

Redeeming Aeroplan points for maximum value

You can redeem Aeroplan points for flights to more than 1,300 destinations on more than 35 partners worldwide. Partners include Star Alliance carriers, as well as some non-alliance partners like Azul and Etihad. Plus, you can mix and match partners as you see fit.

Aeroplan’s award chart is incredibly valuable both for short-haul economy flights or international premium-cabin seats. While some redemption rates are going up in November, they may actually be a better deal due to the elimination of carrier surcharges.

Air Canada wants to make every one of its seats available for award booking, so flights will have variable pricing. However, unlike programs that are fully dynamic, there will be caps on award costs. Partner awards will continue to have a fixed price based on a chart.

Here’s a look at Aeroplan’s award charts as they stand now. The new Aeroplan program will effectively use a hybrid award chart factoring in both the distance you fly and the departure and arrival regions. 

Related: 19 things you need to know about redeeming with the new Aeroplan

Within North America

The chart below shows the current round-trip award costs for Aeroplan awards within North America, with one-way flights available for half the cost.

The best sweet spot here is for the short-haul economy flights for only 7,500 miles each way. TPG values Aeroplan points at 1.5 cents each, so these miles are worth about $112. Aeroplan lists the following routes as eligible for these short-haul awards, including a number from Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL) to the U.S.

Related: Book this, not that: Star Alliance award flights

Some of these short-haul flights are incredibly expensive, such as these $600+ one-way flights from Montreal to Washington Dulles (IAD). You can book these awards for only 7,500 Aeroplan miles, assuming there is award availability. Come November, this award will cost between 6,000 to 10,000 points.

Longer economy flights within North America currently price out at 12,500 miles each way, which is pretty much the industry average. The benefit of using Aeroplan is the flexible transfer options you have for earning miles in the first place. 

Another option would be booking transcontinental business-class flights on United, especially on routes like Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) that are operated by the shiny new 787-10s. That’s because Aeroplan doesn’t charge a premium for these longer routes. Transcon business class awards operated by United will continue to cost just 25,000 points each way after the changes.

Related: How (and when) to book United awards through partners

United Polaris (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
United Polaris on the 787-10. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Travel to Europe

Aeroplan really shines when it comes to award rates for long-haul travel, but there’s one important caveat that eats away at the value of the program: Aeroplan currently passes on fuel surcharges for most partner airlines, which can get quite egregious.

Lufthansa is one of the worst offenders and while first-class award rates from the U.S. to Europe are tantalizingly cheap at 70,000 miles each way, the ~$780 in taxes eat away at the value of your “free” award. Fortunately, this will go away with the new award chart. When the new pricing launches, the award will jump to 100,000 points, but the fees will be over $1,000 lower. Based on TPG valuations, the 30,000-point difference is equivalent to $450.

Related: 6 tips for booking Lufthansa first-class awards

That said, there are airlines like Swiss that keep taxes under $30. In these cases, your redemptions will be devalued when the rates go up. The business class example below will cost 60,000+ points following the changes.

Travel to Asia

Heading west, you can currently get a great deal flying EVA Air’s phenomenal business class to Taipei (TPE) and connecting on to anywhere in Asia for 75,000 to 77,500 miles. Note that award availability tends to be best on the Seattle (SEA) to Taipei route.

Come November, partner awards between North American and the Pacific will cost 35,000-75,000 points in coach, 55,000-105,000 in business and 90,000-140,000 in first.

Related: Why Air Canada’s promise to not remove award charts is such a big deal

Aeroplan also deserves some credit for keeping some of the longest journeys reasonably priced. You can currently fly in business class from the U.S. to India and east, west and south Africa for the same 75,000 miles you’d need for a considerably shorter flight to Japan. With the new award chart, the maximum you’ll ever pay for a one-way award will be 80,000 points in coach, 140,000 in business and 200,000 — and that’s for ultra-long-haul itineraries over 11,000 miles between the Pacific region and South America.

Hidden gems of redeeming with Aeroplan

Aeroplan is one of the best loyalty programs for families. Aside from the soon-to-come family pooling feature, Aeroplan charges some of the lowest fees for traveling with a lap infant. Infant awards are free for travel wholly within Canada and between Canada and the United States and cost just 25 CAD ($19 USD) or 2,500 points for all other itineraries.

(Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)
Aeroplan is very family-friendly. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy)

As previously mentioned, with the revamped program you’ll also be able to add stopovers for just 5,000 points each. You’ll be able to add one stopover for each one-way trip and two for each round-trip itinerary. Flights within North America won’t be eligible for stopovers.

Another great thing about Aeroplan is that it offers an incredibly reliable search engine for Star Alliance award availability. Aeroplan also does a great job (literally) of highlighting mixed-cabin itineraries in a bright yellow box, so there’s no confusion about what class of service you’re actually booking. Additionally, Aeroplan will be launching a new booking engine that’s designed to minimize phantom award availability. There will also be an updated Points + Cash feature with better redemption rates than today.

Related: The best websites for searching Star Alliance award availability

How to earn Aeroplan miles

There are a number of ways to earn Aeroplan miles easily, though one option worth considering would be crediting revenue flights on Star Alliance airlines to Aeroplan. Especially with United’s shift to dynamic pricing, frequent travelers might find themselves getting a higher return by crediting flights to Aeroplan instead of United MileagePlus.

Beginning in November 2021, earning points will be based on the amount you pay for your ticket. Until then, it will still be based on the distance traveled. United tickets currently accrue points at the following rates:

In addition to Star Alliance members and Connecting Partners, there are several other carriers you can earn Aeroplan points with. These include Azul, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, GOL and Olympic Air.

Aeroplan also partners with a number of transferable points programs, letting you instantly top up your account when you’re ready to book an award. You can transfer points to Aeroplan at the following ratios:

If you’re looking to build up your Aeroplan balance quickly, consider applying for one of these credit cards to take advantage of a valuable welcome bonus:

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

In May 2020, Aeroplan introduced the option to buy miles. Points cost as low as 3 Canadian cents apiece (2.3 U.S. cents), but you can potentially get them for much less during a buy-miles promotion. Aeroplan members are allowed to buy up to 250,000 miles per transaction and up to 500,000 miles per calendar year.

Like many other frequent flyer programs Aeroplan also lets you earn points without additional travel or spending. Aeroplan has its own online shopping portal along with partnerships with many major brands, including Uber Eats.

Once the new loyalty program launches, you’ll be able to pool points with your family. You’ll be able to link up to eight family member’s Aeroplan accounts and share your miles for award redemptions.

Related: How to earn miles with the new Aeroplan program

Bottom line

Aeroplan is set to undergo some pretty significant changes later this year when Air Canada reintegrates the currently-independent program. The good news is we have plenty of warning that changes are coming and they’re not all bad.

It appears that Air Canada understands the current value of Aeroplan to its customers, and aims to preserve that value. All in all, the new program should be an upgrade, but if you’re worried that you’ll get less value from your awards you can book them now before the changes kick in.

For more on the new Aeroplan, see:

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Screenshots courtesy of Aeroplan unless otherwise noted.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/ The Points Guy

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